Friday, December 30, 2011

Two Good Questions for a New Year

Sometimes the best things in life are the simplest.

Question #1: "What's working well?"

It's a great place to start because it shifts my mind to appreciation over fear or other emotions. It focuses my mind on what I have as opposed to what I don't have. To help me break it down, I'll ask some "sub-questions"...
-What's working well mentally? Physically? Spiritually? Relationally?
-What's working well in my work? In my personal life? In my living situation?

If I'm honest with myself, there are always a lot of things in my life working well. So, I like to stop and think about those things... and then,

Question #2: "What Could be Better?"

Pretty simple. And, to help me dig, I can ask:
-Where do I see opportunity for improvement or growth?
-Where am I experiencing dissatisfaction?

Sometimes I'll assign a "satisfaction score" of 0 (low) to 10 (high) to the various parts of my life. Anything scored less than an "8" begs the question... "What would be happening in this area of my life to score an 8?"

These two simple questions begin the process of strategic thinking necessary to set a plan in motion. There's likely more exploration in order, but it's a great place to start.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

If I lost ten pounds...

One of my favorite questions is... "What is it you complain about changing but never do?" It's a good question because it launches a series of other good questions that sometimes result in change!

The most common response is "I complain about my weight and say I want to lose ten pounds" or something like that... especially around the holidays. What is it about weight loss that is so difficult that it has created a multi-billion dollar industry?

So, at this time of year, many of us willingly jump into the grasp of the multi-billion dollar weight loss or health and fitness industry. We generally make new commitments to eat less and exercise more.

Before we do that though, perhaps it would be good to get to the root of what we make our weight mean. It's surprising what I hear on that one...

"Losing that weight would mean that I could set a goal and achieve it... which would challenge a belief I have about myself that says I'm no good at setting and achieving goals... which of course is ridiculous because I set and achieve goals all the time at work... but I learned that I'm not a good goal setter a long time ago when my grandmother told me so and that I really shouldn't worry too much about planning for the future and should just be happy in the moment... so in a way if I set a personal goal and achieve it I would be saying that my grandmother was wrong, which is hard because I really loved my grandmother... so... if I lose this weight it would be showing disrespect to my grandmother and I won't do that."

Yikes. I wonder what Grandma would have to say about all that? Or to bring it closer to home, What do you make your weight mean?

This journey is not always easy. Sometimes it invites us to face things we have been struggling with for years. And, perhaps, it is worth it.



Monday, December 5, 2011

If you knew you couldn't fail...

One of my favorite questions with a new group is... "What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?" It's open-ended and brings up all kinds of responses...

"I'd get a PhD."

"I'd cure world hunger."

"I'd make sure everyone has the chance to travel internationally."

Really? No, it's not world hunger... but it might be a remarkable bit of peace making. Years ago, a good friend told me... "you can't hate someone you know"... and it stuck. My sense is that when we get out of our own comfortable and cozy place and people-group we see things differently. It takes some doing these days to get off the beaten track and interact with people that are... well... different. And, one of the things I've learned over the years is that we aren't all that different.

Tomorrow is a long travel day to Warsaw, Poland. I've just finished "The Zookeeper's Wife" and am in the middle of "Skeletons at the Feast" to get my head oriented. The Polish story has had some rough spots. I'm looking forward to seeing how the country has re-invented itself, to meeting up with some people from different backgrounds, to reflecting on the past and how it is informing the present and future.

It may mean foregoing a new toy or fancier car to make travel happen, but I think it's a worthwhile endeavor. The planes fly back and forth every day.



Monday, November 14, 2011

Who Might Help You?

"It's really tough in the job market right now. Hard to connect."

"So, tell me how you have been trying to connect."

"Mostly on craigslist. Job boards. Electronic applications. That sort of thing."

"Who have you spoken to?"

"Well, it's hard to talk to anyone. No one who is hiring wants to talk."

"Hmm. I can see how you might create that story. It kind of supports your theory."


"So, who have you spoken to? Who might help you?"

"I don't know."

"Well, when you don't know something, what do you do?"

"Find out."


"By talking with someone."

"We're in a loop, aren't we?"

"Okay. Let me think. I know a lot of people. Let me think about who might want to help me."

"Great. What about the people your friends know? You know... it's not the people you know, but the people who know the people you know."

"Run that again?"

"We all know people. And, they like to help us because we're friends. But, it's the friends of our friends that really multiply the strength of our social network. Because, by helping us, they also are helping a friend. It's like a two-for-one deal. Very powerful."

"So, I could think about the people my friends know."

"Right. And, perhaps expand your definition of friend. Who were all the old people at your wedding? Do they care about you? Who do they know?"

"Wow. That kind of opens up the field."

"It sounds like you can connect with a lot of people. And the people you know care about you. And, they know a lot of people who might help you connect in the job market. So, what's your next step?"

And, on it goes.

(For more on the idea of the power of friends and "weak ties", check out Ethan Watters' "Urban Tribes")

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How Should We Then Live?

Over the last couple weeks I’ve had too many friends of friends my age drop dead… a couple with no notice and a couple after lengthy illnesses. Then there is Steve Jobs. It all stirs the pot and raises the question for me…

“How should we then live?”

Life is precious. It is fleeting. It’s not a dress rehearsal. And, it’s easy to say… “live in the moment” or make statements like “stop to smell the flowers”… but it’s harder to define a specific strategy for how to live or define a target to shoot for. Perhaps the question is more about laying down a set of rails, principles, or guidelines, by which we navigate the onslaught of day to day decisions. Similar to “values” but with a little more teeth, or specificity, to help us make the decision of going left, or right, or more likely the ever so slight left or momentary veer to the right. My sense is our lives are lived in the bob and weave of the here and now. Achievement of some sort of change or progress then is only noticed when we stop and take a look back on the trail to see how we have in fact changed, or grown. All of which benefits from the time of reflection on the “how.” And, it seems like “how” I lived as a young dad or career professional morphs as I age and the chapter pages turn and the beliefs I held dear are questioned.

Nice reflections after a day at Thoreau's Walden Pond near Concord in Massachussets.



(And, for more on the idea... consider reading Dr. Francis Schaeffer's "How Should We Then Live?" 50th Anniverary edition. 2005. Crossway Publishing, Wheaton, Illinois.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I'm Not Mad!

When someone tells me what they are "not"... there is a very good chance that it is, in fact, exactly what they are. This almost always comes up in conversations around anger.

What is it about our polite society that says "anger is bad?" I'll concede that hitting someone over the head with a baseball bat while in a state of rage is bad. But, all anger? Not in my world.

When I feel angry and I say that I am not angry, I am lying to myself. I am disconnecting from my truth and beginning to create a made-up fantasy story of life as I want it to be. What a waste of energy! When I am mad... it's okay to FEEL MAD!

And the irritating thing to me is this. When someone tells me they are not mad... and they are... I get mad!!! Damn you!!!

"I'm not mad. I'm just frustrated." Ha! What's the difference between frustration and anger? NOTHING! Any number of words we use all fall into the primary emotion bucket labeled "Anger"... frustrated, irritated, dissappointed, pissed, crossed, de-valued, violated... all point to anger. So kids... when we're angry, express it as anger. "I feel angry!"

AND... keep the baseball bats in the closet. Protect yourself and your loved ones from leaking anger. Go hit a tree. Talk it out with a trusted friend. Go to the batting cages. Try and push that brick wall three feet south. Anything to release some energy so that we can talk about the anger, as opposed to being driven by it.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How Can I Make it Right?

"So team, how do we support one another when one of us stumbles or falls?"

Great question! Unless, you are the CEO and you are the one who has stumbled.


The CEO-employee relationship has unequal power because the CEO ultimately signs the paycheck of everyone in the room. And, this creates a parent-child dynamic. And, the ice gets very thin when parents ask their kids for support. Why is that?

A child cannot be asked to provide for the emotional needs of the parent. At some level, this defines abuse, or at the very least co-dependency.

A child will always want to please the parent, even when it goes against their nature or their desire or "what is right". So, in this way we risk asking the child to step away from authenticity and into a masked character or persona. Again, not the target we're aiming for as parents... or as CEO's.

Children need to know that parents have the maturity to self-generate their own support and affirmation. They also need to know we're human. And, that we take 100% responsibility for our emotions and our actions.

So when a parent stumbles... or a CEO... the appropriate response in my belief is to clear the issue while taking 100% responsibility for it. "I did this. I see my mistake. And, I feel bad. I also see how it affects you. How can I make it right with you?"

When we first hear the question... "how can I make it right?"... we assume that whoever we are asking it of will come back with horrendous, over-the-top, or impossible demands. Not my experience. The question, when asked in a curious and "want-to-be-in-relationship" kind of way more often brings humility, mercy, understanding and connection. Wow. And... that is what I want with my kids... and my employees.



(More? "Toxic Parents" by Susan Forward, PhD)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Action Plan" or "Plan Action"?

It's an interesting play on words, isn't it?

Do I act... and then plan? Or, do I plan and then act?

The truth be told, I sometimes act first and then figure out how to back a plan in to wherever it is that I now find myself. Some people call this... "shoot the arrow and then run real quick and move the target so that the arrow hits the bullseye."

I've been with a group for a while now... highly successful, proud history, solid growth trend... and a little stuck in the success of their own success. They do a lot of good things... but there is a sense that they could be more than what they are.

As we navigate through the process of "un-stucking" a whole host of good ideas have come forward of things we could do... actions. And, in the absence of plan... a defined set of targets and goals... all those good ideas may in fact be good... and they might also get us to the top of the wrong mountain.

My desire is that Plans Drive Actions. Every step we take then is a conscious choice made with the knowledge of who we want to be and where we want to go.

What do you think?



Thursday, August 11, 2011

What's Next (Part Deux)?

On my birthday in March I wrote about "What's next?" Ha! Sometimes life happens while we're making other plans.

A month earlier in February, (as I've also written), I was up on the Colorado Continental Divide snow shoeing in -17 degree weather. That's cold. And, my toes have never regained full feeling. And then it spread to my feet. And up my legs. Eventually I had no sense of skin touch on my legs and arms. A fly can walk all over and I don't feel a thing.

My regular doctor was worried about all kinds of dire diseases and sent me off to a Neurologist who poked and prodded (literally, with an electric cattle prod) and took blood and pictures to find something wrong. And the MRI showed a benign tumor in my head, putting pressure on the carotid artery. I wrote about all that a few months ago.

Off to the Neuro Surgeon. More tests. More pictures. And, I learned today... no surgery. The body is wonderfully redundant and the other carotid artery is performing quite nicely. Plenty of blood to the brain.

So, the flies can still land (it's kind of a good thing out in the desert) and I don't feel them. My legs buzz all the time. And, I don't have any of the dire diseases that might cause it. The L5 vertebrae may be a little compressed and there may be some holdover from the T12/L1 compression fracture from a few years ago... and well... I'm 52.

What's next? An appreciation for what I don't have... and an appreciation for what I do. Life. Great relationships. A nice home. And? More laps in the pool and more yoga. Vitamin B12. Maybe some more accupuncture.

I've also taken on a new volunteer commitment to coach the leaders of the YMCA of Armenia through a strategic planning process. I'll be heading there on Sunday. And on the way back I'll be having dinner with two good friends from Belfast who are in London for the weekend. Perhaps the three of us will straighten things out while we're there.

So, What's Next?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What's your plan?

It is hard to listen sometimes. It is hard not to fix the problem. Easier to offer a solution. Tell 'em what they oughta do.

I'm having coffee with a friend the other day. Our house had been broken into while on vacation and we lost an ancient TV, a nice Bose system, and a bag of currency from all the countries I have visited. Not a great loss, but still a loss. I was sharing how it felt... anger, sadness.

"You need to get an alarm system."
"And, you should add the stolen currency to the police report."
"Actually, you should just get someone to housesit when you are away."
"You live on a busy street. You should get those lights that turn on automatically."
"You should have left on more lights. I would have left more lights on."

Finally, I noticed what was happening and I said... "you know, you'd make a lousy coach."

And, he stopped, looking a little sheepish.

"Yeah, I'd be mad too," he said trying to pull out of his Mr. Fix-It Man role and hear my emotion.

So, it's one thing to hear the emotion that I was expressing. That felt good. But I also noticed that the question I wanted him to ask was... "what's your plan?" Because, that would have been a good question! And, it would have invited me to move through the emotion I was expressing and into a forward-looking posture. "What's next?" is almost always helpful once the emotion of the moment has dissipated.

Of course I would have said, "I don't know!" because I don't have a plan. What I want though is to explore my thoughts and fears around home security and to put aside all the voices of others so that I can discover what I want. Because that's where my life will be lived!

My Dad used to say "Don't should on me." I guess the old man had something there.

Friday, July 22, 2011

What is Really Important?

My favorite Aunt is turning 80. She doesn't have a mobile device or a computer so she won't know that I just gave up her age. She's the Aunt that still sends out handwritten cards for every occasion.. birthdays, Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, you name it. And, her cards are always full of whatever news is lighting up the family telephone tree. There's a party for her next week but we were passing through Grants Pass where she lives and had dinner with her last night.

At one point I asked her, "What is really important in life?"

"Living for who you are and who you want to be. Not living for who others think you should be."

Nice. That we should all be so clear.

Monday, June 6, 2011

She Said. He Heard.

She said: "I shouldn't have to tell you how to express love to me. You should just know... naturally."

He heard: "I'm a screw-up. I don't know how to love well."

Then he remembered: "I get to choose how her statements land for me."

He re-framed his thoughts: "Ah. Perhaps she struggles expressing clear wants. What's my part in this? What can I own?"

Then he explored: "Well, I can listen intently and affirm her when she does express a want. I can offer her optional choices from time to time and learn about her wants. I can experiment with different kinds of love expressions and see what lands as love for her... time, touch, service, gifts, words... I could find a time when the tension is low and invite her to tell me some stories about when she has felt loved. When her wants were heard. And, I can listen and learn."

Making the shift from "I don't love well" to "I can listen and learn how to take full responsibilty for my part in this relationship" isn't easy. It takes guts. It takes owning MY part... and not owning THEIR part.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Where is My Identity?

I've never stayed at a hospital. But for my annual cold, I'm never sick. I am the healthy guy. And, what I'm learning these days is that I need to be the healthy guy. I need to be the guy that climbs mountains, never gets sick, skiis all day, easily swims a mile, and eats whatever he wants and keeps the same weight as when he was 35.

Uh oh. Red flag.

When someone says to me that they need something more than food, air, or water, the flags go up. Because food, air, and water are needs. Most everything else is a want. But, when we need something, we will often do loopy things to either prove to the world that we have it (even if we don't), or defend ourselves in not having it, or whatever it takes to assuage some fear that is embedded in not being whatever it is we are needing.


As I've wandered down the medical pathway these past few months, my body is telling me that all is not well. My persona of "healthy guy" is being challenged. And, I don't like that. So, I get mad. And I eat. And I politely reject the care and concern of others. And I stay in my cave and only do what absolutely must be done. What drama!

So, what to do? Breathe. And, breathe again. And ask myself...

"Who am I if I'm not the healthy guy?"

Pause. Breathe.

I'm me. And that's plenty enough.



Monday, May 23, 2011

When are you in your Genius?

There are some things in my life where I am good. And, a few things where I might be great. And there is always the possibility to pursue excellence. But what about genius?

My sense is that there is genius wired into each of us... and we know we are in our genius when we're doing that thing that is almost effortless, where the results that we derive are greater than the sum of what we put in.

This weekend at the Doheny Blues Festival I witnessed genius. John Fogarty and Mavis Staples were there and you could sense their 40 years of performance grace and excellence. But there was also a young band from Germany playing on the "back porch" named "BB and The Blues Shack" and they were in their genius... the lead singer/harmonica, the lead guitarist, the keyboardist... all of them were in pure joy as talent, practice, heart, and soul all came together and the music flowed effortlessly.

I've seen a lot of talented people in my day. Few though give me that choked up feeling where I know I'm witnessing something special. When are you in your genius?



Monday, May 16, 2011

What are we Learning?

"So, what are we learning?" I asked the Neurologist.

He gives me a puzzled expression. "No one has ever asked me the question quite like that. Good question though."

"I like good questions."

"Well, we've ruled out diabetes, cancer, back injury, HIV/AIDS, and Vitamin B-12 deficiency as the cause of your neuropathy."


"But the MRI turned up a tumor in your brain where the neck and head come together. It's benign. And, it's causing you to lose feeling in your arms and legs."

"Okay. What about Multiple Sclerosis?"

"Nope. You're clear. No lesions."

Relief. Joy.

There is something about moving something from the unknown to the known that brings comfort. I don't care how bad something is, just tell me what it is and I can play the hand out. Deal with it. Develop the critical task list that needs to get done. I can deal with a brain tumor. Especially a benign one.

I don't know yet what the path will be from here. But, we'll learn as we go. And, I am grateful and appreciative for the concern and care expressed toward me these last few months.

My takeaway? Every step we take is an opportunity to ask... "What are we learning?" and an opportunity to give thanks for what we have.



Saturday, May 14, 2011

Is it worth the risk?

"If you had gone by our house last Saturday you would have seen people playing dominoes and talking in the driveway and heard kids playing kickball and volleyball in the backyard. It might have looked like a pretty fun time! Well, it was, thankfully, but it was also much more than that. Something happens when people come together and start getting to know each other, something bigger than anyone can quite put their finger on. It's that feeling you get when you're surrounded by people you love and all of a sudden the beauty of it hits you. It's warmth, it's love, it's fellowship, and it's also exactly what the world need right now. The more I learn about all kinds of social ills, the more I am convinced that many of them could be significantly ameliorated if we all took the time to get to know each other. Imagine a world where nobody falls through the cracks because everybody is known: nobody ends up on the streets, no child drops out of school, no elderly person is left lonely or abandoned, no single mother has to raise her children on her own, and no one misses out on the joys of friendship. To know, to care, to love, and to be known, to be cared for, and to be loved. This is true community. So while it might have just looked like a bunch of people having a good time on a Saturday afternoon, it was also a neighborhood coming together and taking that first step toward building community. Beautiful."

So, is it worth the risk to reach out to another, to get to know someone who might be different, to risk involvement?

I pulled this from my daughter Janelle's monthly newsletter on her year-long internship in an inner city neighborhood of Houston. I think she has found her answer to the question... YES! And, she closes the newsletter with...

"In the meantime: There will never be a moment when absolutely everything is perfect, and most things will take quite awhile to be anything good. So, in the meantime, I'd like to keep being grateful and trying to love the people around me. It may just be that the "meantime" is really all that matters and all we have."



(Check out

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What's next?

My good friend Kaley once said her aspiration was to "live in a place I love, with a man I love, and do work that I love..." and how she had achieved all three. Pretty cool.

Today I was in the High Sierras... Mammoth Mountain to be exact... a place I love. I was with three friends who challenge and inspire me... people I love. And, we were skiing hard... doing something I love. What could be a better way to usher in 52?

This past year has included a fair amount of transition... home, relationships, graduations and marriages, evolving work. This next year is shaping up to be about grounding and perhaps scratching my "build something" itch. I've done buildings, and organizations, and people... even an ice rink... "I wonder what's next?"



Friday, March 18, 2011

Which Way?

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
Tough decisions are tough. Which way should I go? Should I change jobs? Should I end this relationship? And, while it might be easy to say... "Figure out where you want to get to" first... it sometimes seems like answering that question is just as hard. Like Alice, we often don't know exactly where it is we want to get to. What to do?

How about doing nothing? Put it in the pot and let it simmer for a bit. But unless you like mushed carrots, you can't leave the carrots in the pot too long. So, here's a path:

First, assess the data. What are the facts? And by facts, I mean facts... not the stories you make up about the facts. Hard data. Times, dates, places... all the stuff a video camera could have recorded.

Next, get honest with yourself about the stories you are making up. What are the competing voices in your head saying? Admit it, we all have them, so cozy up and have a beer or cup of tea with each of the competitors. What do those inner voices want? How are they trying to protect you? How have they perhaps propelled you in the past but possibly sabotage you in the present? In any event... own your assessments, your judgments, beliefs, stories, predictions of the future, all of it.

And then... stop. And, feel. How are you feeling? Where are you feeling it in your body? Is that excitement? Fear? Sadness? Anger? Whatever you are feeling, just feel it.

My sense is that unless we are able to separate the facts, fiction and feelings the soup will remain in the pot on the stove. Whatever "wants" we might think we want will be clouded with un-owned stories and un-expressed emotions. So, we must do the hard work.

And then... go play! Really? Yes, play. When you want to connect with your deepest desires of who you are and what you want in life, go play. Do something creative. Something that is uniquely you. Enjoy yourself. Get dirty. Enjoy being you. You'll be amazed with what happens. And, if nothing happens, at least you will have had some fun. :)

Too often, we ask "what should I do?" when the better question is "what do I want?" When I am clear on my "want", the "do" part comes easily. Try it.

Be well,

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Letting Go of My Need To Be Right

"Facebook is no substitute for real relationship!"

"Bah! It's how I stay connected!"

"Fine. Then, let's never do another offsite. In fact, let's just run the whole company on Facebook."

"Okay! Fine by Me!"

"Na Na Na!"

"Na Na Na Na!"


So, I'm with an executive team that is made up of 30-, 40-, and 50-somethings. Some grew up with rotary telephones. Some have never used a phone that had a wire connected to it. The company is hip, relevant, and attractive to a target market under 40.

While discussing critical success factors, I asked, "Can you let go of your need to be right?" and got more than a few blank stares.

Some got it... they smiled and said... "you're inviting us to become curious, aren't you?" Others couldn't let go of their position.

It seems to me that success will be found in our ability to let go of our need to be right in favor of our desire to connect. Being right has little value if the end result is alienation, isolation, and disconnection. If our desire is to meet people (clients, co-workers, friends, lovers) where they are at, it matters not whether we are right, but only that we are willing to let go of our well-staked position and become curious about the possibilities.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How Does it Serve You?

"I get that you want that. But, how does it serve you to stay right where you're at?"

"It doesn't serve me! I hate it!"

"Hmm. Well... if it didn't serve you somehow... perhaps in a way that protects you from something bigger or darker... than you would have likely gotten what you wanted a long time ago."

"Go on."

"It's your turn. How does it serve you to not change?"

"I don't have to fail. If I never really commit, than I never really fail."

"So, it sounds like you have your life set up so you don't get what you want because you don't take the risk of failing?"

"I guess so. And, the next question you're going to ask is, "Am I willing to take the risk? and the answer is Yes. I want this. And I am willing to take the risk of failure... because to do nothing, or to stay in this spin cycle, is not working."


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Who Has My Back?

Me: "Back! You're killing me. It's my first day on the slopes this year... give me a break!"
Back: "Well, it's about time you noticed. You've been trying to ignore me the last couple hours."
Me: "Okay. You've got my attention. What's going on?"
Back: "Well, you're carrying some extra baggage."
Me: "No! I'm within 4 pounds of my ideal fighting weight!"
Back: "Not that kind of baggage. Look over your shoulder. You're carrying Jim, and your dad, and Dave, Keith, Tony, Kaley, Chris, Glen, Ted, Brad... all your enouragers, critics, butt-kickers and all their expectations and desires for you. They're adding a lot of weight to our skiing today. You're worried more about what they would think about your skiing than enjoying the day of skiing!"
Me: "Whoa."
Back: "Yeah, whoa. What do you want to do?"
Me: "Well, first of all I want to thank you. Not for being such a pain, but for raising the flag on what's going on. And, I want to take a breath here and send some love your way."
Back: "Ah. I'm relaxing a bit now."
Me: "And, I'm going to relax a bit too. It's just a day on the slopes. And, it's beautiful. There is no need to manage the story for anyone else. I may take a break. I don't really need to ski 25,000 vertical feet today. It's my first day on the slopes. Perhaps we could be a bit more gentle with each other."
Back: "Perfect."
Me: "Thanks."

Am I Listening?

A while back, someone said to me, “Wow, Vince, you’re such a good listener!”  It made me wonder what it’s like to be a bad listener!  So, I ...